By Rob Patrick
NORTH LITTLE ROCK — And so they meet again.
In 2011, the Bryant Black Sox and the TEXAR Razorbacks of Texarkana met six times including[more] an 11-inning war in the final of the Senior American Legion State Tournament in Jonesboro. The two teams meet again tonight at 7:30 or 8, for the fifth time this season when they tangle in the winners bracket final of the 2012 version of the State at DeJanis Memorial Field at Burns Park.
Both advanced past second-round opponents with run-rule wins on Saturday. The Texarkana team dismissed Sylvan Hills, 15-5, in seven innings. The Sox routed the host North Little Rock Colts, 14-4, in seven behind the continued hot hitting of Marcus Wilson and Hunter Mayall and staunch relief pitching by Hayden Daniel.
It was Bryant’s 30th win in 35 games this summer.
In 2011, TEXAR won four of the six meetings, won State and advanced to Regional play. So far in 2012, Bryant has won three of four including two just last Monday to capture the Zone 4 tournament championship.
The Sox figure to face lefty Tim Buchanan tonight. He shut them out on five hits in his team’s lone victory over Bryant this season on July 11.
The Black Sox have scored early and often in their two wins at State so far. They built a 6-0 lead over North Little Rock on Saturday.
“That’s what we’ve got to do again (Sunday),” stated Bryant manager Darren Hurt. “We’ve got to come out and throw a spot on them right off the bat because we haven’t scored on (Buchanan) this year. We’ve got to at least put it in his head that we can, then we can add from there.”
Hurt still has two of his top hurlers, Jordan Taylor and Tyler Nelson, on full rest. He acknowledged that one of them will start. But, he also noted, it was important to finish off the Colts in seven innings. The Sox led 10-4 going into the sixth, scored three in the sixth and one in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Nelson to end it.
“To save pitching,” Hurt explained. “Up nine, we kind of played it a little bit different there but we had to score. We had to treat that like it was the biggest run of our lives so we could get out of there without throwing any more arms. It was big.”
Taylor had walked to start the inning and Landon Pickett singled to left. They then pulled off a double steal to get both in scoring position. Taylor tagged and scored without a play on Nelson’s deep fly to center.
For the second game in a row, Wilson, batting in the eighth spot, rapped out three hits including his third double in two games. He scored three times and drove in a run.
“He just keeps coming up big,” Hurt noted. “He’s got it to where we’ve got to have him down at the bottom of the order. Producing runs down there is huge and that’s what he’s doing.”
Tyler Brown started on the mound for the Sox and eased through the first three innings, retiring seven of the first eight batters. But, with one out in the third, he started struggling to get his breaking pitch spotted and the Colts hacked out five hits and scored three runs to cut the Bryant lead in half.
Daniel took over in the fourth and over four innings of work allowed one run on five hits with two walks and four strikeouts. He ran into trouble in the seventh trying to hold the line so the Sox would only need one in the bottom of the inning to end the game. An infield hit by Jack Partlow, a walk to Tyson Tackett and a single to center by Dillon Richardson loaded the bases with nobody out. But Daniel came back to retired the next three, all on called third strikes, to force North Little Rock to stranded all three.
Asked what he told his hurler when he visited him followed the walk, Hurt stated, “I told him to throw strikes. I was sick of us working from behind in the count. We’ve got that big a lead, just throw strikes.”
The manager went on to explain that loading the bases probably helped Daniel.
“When they got the bases loaded, I told him to get into the wind-up,” Hurt said. “You know, he hasn’t pitched in so long (before this summer), the stretch is a very uncomfortable position for him. If he can get in the wind-up, he feels a lot more comfortable and his mechanics are a lot better. Once they loaded the bases and he could go back to the wind-up, he looked like a new pitcher again.”
Bryant’s early production commenced when Brown singled with one out in the bottom of the first and Taylor pulled a base hit to right. A passed ball allowed them both to move up a base then Pickett hit a sharp grounder to short that got Brown home.
In the second, Josh Pultro’s sinking liner to third was mishandled, opening the door for a five-run uprising. Hayden Lessenberry, who was on base all four times he came up (two hits, two walks), drew a free pass and Wilson singled to load the bases for Ozzie Hurt who socked an RBI single to center. Mayall laced one up the middle to drive in Lessenberry then Wilson was awarded home when North Little Rock starter Ty Schaller balked.
With Ozzie Hurt at third, Brown got a bunt down for a successful suicide squeeze to make it 5-0. The inning continued with a walk to Taylor. Mayall tried to sneak home on Pickett’s grounder to third. Jack Hopkins, the Colts’ third baseman, threw home and caught him in a pickle. But Mayall stayed in the rundown long enough for Taylor to reach third and Pickett second, which proved to be productive because Schaller unleashed a wild pitch as he walked Nelson allowing Taylor to score.
North Little Rock’s rally in the top of the third started with Jacob Stripling’s hot grounder up the middle that Hurt, coming over from second, stabbed with a dive. But Stripling just beat the throw and, moments later, Ryan Johnson lined a double to left-center.
An infield hit by Nick Cleveland and singles by Tacket and Dillon Richardson drove in runs. Along the way, a pitch got past Lessenberry, the Bryant catcher, and Cleveland tried to score. But Lessenberry scrambled after the ball, which ricocheted off the backstop, tossing to Brown covering the plate for the second out.
Richardson’s RBI single followed but, after a walk to Michael Hodge, the Sox got out of the inning when Nelson made a nice stop on Wes Freeland’s grounder to short resulting in an inning-ending force at second.
Bryant got two of those runs back in the bottom of the inning. Back-to-back doubles by Lessenberry and Wilson produced the first one and chased Schaller. Cleveland relieved and Mayall picked up an RBI on a groundout after Wilson had moved to third on a wild pitch.
Daniel pitched around a pair of two-out singles in the fourth and the Sox added on. Taylor walked, took second on a wild pitch and stole third. He scored on Nelson’s one-out single. Pultro ripped the very next pitch off the fence in left-center and Nelson sprinted home all the way from first to make it 10-3.
The lone run North Little Rock managed against Daniel came in the fifth when Richardson smacked a solo homer to right-center. The right-hander issued a walk to Hodge but then retired Freeland and Gunner Allen to keep it 10-4. He would work a 1-2-3 sixth and the Sox put the game on ice with their three-run burst in the bottom of the frame.
Nelson walked and stole his way to third before scoring on Lessenberry’s single up the middle. On a hit-and-run, Wilson lashed a single to center to put runners at the corners and, for the second time in the game, the Sox squeezed in a run. This time, Hurt got the bunt down.
Mayall blasted a double to left-center to make it 13-4 but he was stranded as the Sox came up a run short of the 10-run lead needed to end the game in seven. Of course, they took care of that in the home seventh.
BRYANT 14, NORTH LITTLE ROCK 4
Senior American Legion State Tournament
Colts ab r h bi Black Sox ab r h bi
Johnson, lf-2b 4 1 2 0 Mayall, lf 5 0 2 3
Cleveland, ss-p 3 0 2 1 Brown, p 2 1 1 1
Partlow, ph 1 0 1 0 Daniel, p 2 0 0 0
D.Hodge, 2b 0 0 0 0 Taylor, 3b 2 3 1 0
Tackett, cf 3 1 1 1 Pickett, 1b 5 0 1 1
Richardson, 1b 4 1 3 2 Nelson, ss 2 2 1 2
M.Hodge, rf 2 0 0 0 Pultro, rf 4 1 1 1
Freeland, dh-lf-p 4 0 0 0 Lessenberry, c 2 3 2 1
Allen, c 4 0 0 0 Wilson, cf 4 3 3 1
Hopkins, 3b 3 0 0 0 Hurt, 2b 3 1 1 2
Stripling, 2b-ss 3 1 2 0
Schaller, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 31 4 11 4 Totals 31 14 13 12
No.Little Rock 003 010 0 — 4
BRYANT 152 203 1 — 14
One out when game-ending run scored.
E—Hopkins, Hurt, Taylor, Johnson, Stripling. DP—North Little Rock 1. LOB—North Little Rock 9, Bryant 8. 2B—Johnson, Lessenberry, Wilson, Pultro, Mayall. SB—Nelson 3, Taylor 2, Pickett. S—Brown, Hurt. SF—Nelson.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
North Little Rock
Schaller (L) 2 8 7 7 3 0
Cleveland 4 5 5 5 3 4
Freeland 0.1 1 1 1 1 0
Brown 3 3 3 6 1 2
Daniel (W) 4 1 1 5 2 4
Balk—Schaller. WP—Brown, Daniel 2, Cleveland 2. PB—Allen.